How many times did your mother tell you, “Don’t forget to floss and brush your teeth?” It’s a mantra many of us have probably heard repeatedly from our mothers and dentists throughout our lives.
It turns out that brushing your teeth and flossing daily are the two most important habits you can practice throughout your lifetime to maintain healthy teeth.
Eunice Levisay, now 78, is living proof.
“By the time you reach your 60s and 70s, many people will have problems with things like gum disease, receding gums, tooth decay, and deteriorating teeth,” says Steven Wegner, DDS. “Eunice has been very conscientious about following good oral health habits and, as a result, has beautiful teeth. She’s a great example of how to have good dental health as you get older.”
“Dr. Wegner always encouraged me to brush and floss daily and to get my teeth cleaned and checked every six months, so that’s what I did,” says Levisay. “It’s pretty basic, but it makes a difference.”
As we get older, our teeth and oral health changes and this can put seniors at risk for a number of problems, notes Dr. Wegner. For instance, our gums begin to recede naturally as we age. As your roots become more exposed, not only are you at greater risk for tooth decay, but the supporting bone may eventually resorb and your teeth may become loose.
According to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, 69 percent of adults ages 35 to 44 have lost at least one permanent tooth to an accident, gum disease, a failed root canal, or tooth decay. By age 74, 26 percent of adults have lost all of their permanent teeth.
As a result, many seniors turn to dentures or dental implants, which have become a more popular permanent and reliable alternative to dentures over the last 20 years. Removable full and partial dentures have a number of potential problems. They may slip, food can get underneath them, and they can affect adjacent healthy teeth. Dental restorations that are supported by dental implants can look and function like your permanent teeth and, when properly cared for, can last for many years.
Gum disease is also more prevalent among seniors, often a result of a lifetime of bad oral hygiene, use of tobacco products, poor diet, and such diseases as cancer and diabetes.
Another common problem is dry mouth, which is caused by reduced saliva. This is often a result of many of the medications taken by seniors as well as cancer treatments. Reduced saliva diminishes your ability to dilute acids from your mouth, which can result in increased cavities.
“Daily brushing and flossing are critical to keeping your teeth and gums clean and to help prevent decay,” says Dr. Wegner. The American Dental Association also recommends using an antibacterial mouth rinse, which can reduce bacteria that cause plaque and gum disease.
Warning signs of potential oral health problems include gums that are red, inflamed, oversensitive, or bleeding. Regular visits to your dentist can help you stay on top of potential oral health problems, says Dr. Wegner.